HELEN, wife Of MENELAUS
TEUCER, a Greek warrior, who fought at Troy
CHORUS OF CAPTIVE GREEK WOMEN, attending HELEN
MENELAUS, King of Sparta
PORTRESS of THEOCLYMENUS
THEONOE, sister of THEOCLYMENUS
THEOCLYMENUS, King of Egypt
SERVANT of THEOCLYMENUS
Lo! These are the fair virgin streams of Nile, the river that waters Egypt’s tilth, fed by pure melting snow instead of rain from heaven. Proteus during his life-time was king of this land, dwelling in the isle of Pharos, and ruling o’er Egypt; and he took to wife one of the daughters of the sea, Psamathe, after she left the embraces of Aeacus. Two children she bare in this his palace, a son Theoclymenus, who hath passed his lifein duteous service to the gods, and likewise a noble daughter, her mother’s pride, called Eido in her infancy, but when she reached her youthful prime, the age for wedded joys, renamed Theonoe; for well she knew whate’er the gods design, both present and to come, for she had won this guerdon from her grandsire Nereus. Nor is my fatherland unknown to fame, e’en Sparta, or my sire Tyndareus; for a legend tells how Zeus winged his way to my mother Leda’s breast, in the semblance of a bird, even a swan, and thus as he fled from an eagle’s pursuit, achieved by guile his amorous purpose, if this tale be true. My name is Helen, and I will now recount the sorrows I have suffered. To a hollow vale on Ida came three goddesses to Paris, for beauty’s prize contending, Hera and Cypris, and the virgin child of Zeus, eager to secure his verdict on their loveliness. Now Cypris held out my beauty,-if aught so wretched deserves that name,-as a bride before the eyes of Paris, saying he should marry me; and so she won the day; wherefore the shepherd of Ida left his steading, and came to Sparta, thinking to win me for his bride. But Hera, indignant at not defeating the goddesses, brought to naught my marriage with Paris, and gave to Priam’s princely son not Helen, but a phantom endowed with life, that she made in my image out of the breath of heaven; and Paris thought that I was his, although I never was,-an idle fancy! Moreover, the counsels of Zeus added further troubles unto these; for upon the land of Hellas and the hapless Phrygians he brought a war, that he might lighten mother-earth of her myriad hosts of men, and to the bravest of the sons of Hellas bring renown. So I was set up as a prize for all the chivalry of Hellas, to test the might of Phrygia, yet not I, but my name alone; for Hermes caught me up in the embracing air, and veiled me in a cloud; for Zeus was not unmindful of me; and he set me down here in the house of Proteus, judging him to be the most virtuous of all mankind; that so I might preserve my marriage with Menelaus free from taint. Here then I abide, while my hapless lord has gathered an army, and is setting out for the towers of Ilium to track and recover me. And there by Scamander’s streams hath many a life breathed out its last, and all for me; and I, that have endured all this, am accursed, and seem to have embroiled all Hellas in a mighty war by proving a traitress to my husband. Why, then, do I prolong my life? Because I heard Hermes declare,that I should yet again make my home on Sparta’s glorious soil, with my lord,-for Hermes knew I never went to Ilium,-that so I might never submit to any other’s wooing. Now as long as Proteus gazed upon yon glorious sun, I was safe from marriage; but when o’er him the dark grave closed, the dead man’s son was eager for my hand. But I, from regard to my former husband, am throwing myself down in suppliant wise before this tomb of Proteus, praying him to guard my husband’s honour, that, though through Hellas I bear a name dishonoured, at least my body here may not incur disgrace.
Who is lord and master of this fenced palace? The house is one I may compare to the halls of Plutus, with its royal bulwarks and toweringbuildings. Ha! great gods! what sight is here? I see the counterfeit of that fell murderous dame, who ruined me and all the Achaeans. May Heaven show its loathing for thee, so much dost thou resemble Helen! Were I not standing on a foreign soil, with this well-aimed shaft had worked thy death, thy reward for resembling the daughter of Zeus.
Who art thou? whence comest thou to visit this land?
One of those hapless Achaeans am I, lady.
Then why art thou visiting these meadows by the Nile?
A wanderer I, an exile from my native land.
My father Telamon. Couldst find a nearer and a dearer?
But why? This case is surely fraught with woe.
The death of Ajax my brother at Troy was my ruin.
How so? surely ’twas not thy sword that stole his life away?
He threw himself on his own blade and died.
Dost thou know aught of Achilles. son of Peleus?
He came, so I have heard, to woo Helen once.
When he died, he left his arms for his comrades to contest.
Well, if he did, what harm herein to Ajax?
When another won these arms, to himself he put an end.
Art thou then a sufferer by woes that he inflicted?
Yes, because I did not join him in his death.
So thou camest, sir stranger, to Ilium’s famous town?
Is Troy already fired and utterly by flames consumed?
Woe is thee, poor Helen! thou art the cause of Phrygia’s ruin.
And of Achaea’s too. Ah! ’tis a tale of grievous misery!
How long is it since the city was sacked?
Nigh seven fruitful seasons have come and gone.
And how much longer did ye abide in Troy?
And did ye capture that Spartan dame?
Menelaus caught her by the hair, and was for dragging her away.
As plain as I now see thee, I then saw her.
Bethink thee of some other topic; no more of her!
Are you so sure this fancy was reliable?
Hath Menelaus reached his home by this time with his wife?
No; he is neither in Argos, nor yet by the streams of Eurotas.
‘Tis said he disappeared with his wife.
Did not all the Argives make the passage together?
Yes: but a tempest scattered them in every direction.
In what quarter of the broad ocean?
They were crossing the Aegean in mid channel.
And after that, doth no man know of Menelaus’ arrival?
No; none; but through Hellas is he reported to be dead.
Then am I lost. Is the daughter of Thestius alive?
Dost speak of Leda? She is dead; aye, dead and gone.
Was it Helen’s shame that caused her death?
Aye, ’tis said she tied the noose about her noble neck.
Are the sons of Tyndareus still alive or not?
Dead, and yet alive: ’tis a double story.
Which is the more credible report? Woe is me for my sorrows!
Men say that they are gods in the likeness of stars.
That is happy news; but what is the other rumour?
That they by self-inflicted wounds gave up the ghost because of their sister’s shame. But enough of such talk! I have no wish to multiply my griefs. The reason of my coming to this royal palace was a wish to see that famous prophetess Theonoe. Do thou the means afford, that I from her may obtain an oracle how I shall steer a favourable course to the sea-girt shores of Cyprus; for there Apollo hath declared my home shall be, giving to it the name of Salamis, my island home, in honour of that fatherland across the main.
That shall the voyage itself explain, sir stranger; but do thou leave these shores and fly, ere the son of Proteus, the ruler of this land, catch sight of thee. Now is he away with his trusty hounds tracking his savage quarry to the death; for every stranger that he catcheth from the land of Hellas doth he slay. His reason never ask to know; my lips are sealed; for what could word of mine avail thee?
Ah me! what piteous dirge shall I strive to utter, now that I am beginning my strain of bitter lamentation? What Muse shall I approach with tears or songs of death or woe? Ah me! ye Sirens, Earth’s virgin daughters, winged maids, come, oh! come to aid my mourning, bringing with you the Libyan flute or pipe, to waft to Persephone’s ear a tearful plaint, the echo of my sorrow, with grief for grief, and mournful chant for chant, with songs of death and doom to match my lamentation, that in return she may receive from me, besides my tears, dirges for the departed dead beneath her gloomy roof!
Beside the deep-blue water I chanced to be hanging purple robes along the tendrils green and on the sprouting reeds, to dry them in the sun-god’s golden blaze, when lo! I heard a sound of woe, a mournful wail, the voice of one crying aloud in her anguish; yea, such a cry of woe asNaiad nymph might send ringing o’er the hills, while to her cry the depths of rocky grots re-echo her screams at the violence of Pan.
Woe! woe! ye maids of Hellas, booty of barbarian sailors! one hath come, an Achaean mariner, bringing fresh tears to me, the news of Ilium’s overthrow, how that it is left to the mercy of the foeman’s flame, and all for me the murderess, or for my name with sorrow fraught. While for anguish at my deed of shame, hath Leda sought her death by hanging; and on the deep, to weary wandering doomed my lord hath met his end; and Castor and his brother, twin glory of their native land, are vanished from men’s sight, leaving the plains that shook to their galloping steeds, and the course beside reed-fringed Eurotas, where those youthful athletes strove.